My Yoga Journal: Downsizing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right, here goes.  I’m just going to say it.

I want to lose weight.

There.  I’ve said it.  It’s out there.  There is no going back.

Here’s the deal.  This is not so much an exercise in vanity (there’s a bit of that, I’m only human), but more to do with the fact that some of my “lovely lady lumps” are quite literally getting in the way of me improving my yoga practise.

This, however, is for vanity’s sake; I do not want the coroner’s report on my demise to read “Cause of death: UNPRECEDENTED – appears to have suffocated in own bosom while in Plough Pose” (refer to picture above).

I do not like “diets” and I don’t “do” deprivation or starvation.  I also have practical limitations in this endeavour in that I am head grocery buyer and chef in a house with three men. Three men who are immediately suspicious of any meal (apart from breakfast and even then only on weekdays ), that does not contain meat.

I like to cook, but not two separate meals at every mealtime.  I am not Oprah; I do not have a personal chef to indulge a fad-diet.  I don’t want tricky recipes or ingredients you can only order on-line from overseas.  This needs to be a “Woolworths supermarket-friendly” diet.  I don’t want my groceries arriving in bubble-wrap from Guatemala via airmail.

This cannot be an intensive Yogic “no meat, no wheat, no dairy, no eggs” thing.  I like to eat out occasionally.  I don’t want to be THAT person in the restaurant who trims down their à la carte dish to porcelain and cracked pepper (on the side).

I cannot join the “Raw Food Movement”.  Firstly because – BLEUCH; and secondly because I laugh out loud thinking what my husband would say if I suggested it.  I like the idea of “whole foods”.  I think I could manage “unprocessed”.

So, I’ve done a little bit of research and am going to give Sarah Wilson’s “I Quit Sugar” program a crack.  I am not a sweet tooth anyhow so I think it might work.  It ticks all of the boxes in terms of no deprivation – want chocolate after dinner?  Eat cheese!  It embraces whole foods – fat fills you up!  I can shop at Woolworths, eat out, and cook for my family without them even noticing.  My darling men, whose collective idea of heaven would be main-lining cordial through an IV drip, can inhale chocolate to their heart’s content uninterrupted.  My biggest challenge is going to be sticking to one glass of wine (pfffft) – but it doesn’t cut it out completely!  I’m in.

And YOU, my dear reader are here to keep me honest.

I have been reading over my past articles and marvelled at just how far I have come since my first post.  I have mentioned my body previously, and through yoga it has come to be my friend.  I am not obese by any stretch, nor even “overweight” – I may be pushing the upper limit of weight for height ratios – but whatever.

As I have stated before, this fabulous piece of machinery has delivered two beautiful boys and continues to surprise me in yoga classes at what it’s capable of.  Since beginning yoga I have off-loaded some serious mental baggage; I think I just may be in the right headspace to spruce up the exterior a smidge.  So, wish me luck and watch this space.

Until next time we meet,

Om & out.

AQA xxx

This article has been contributed by Cool, Calm & Collected’s student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.

Photo Source:  YogaDork.com

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A Beginner’s Journal: Two Steps Forward and One Step Back.

This article has been contributed by student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.

So, since beginning yoga, deep relaxation and meditation with Annemaree at Cool, Calm & Collected in October last year, the effect on me has been profound.  I lost a small amount of weight, was drinking less, smoking less, eating better, sleeping better, worrying less, shouting less, spending less, having more sex – that’s right! MORE SEX. My Divine Husband agreed that yoga was the best thing I had ever taken on.  From the moment I began I never took an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety pill (hello calm, adios sex drive) and never felt the need to. A year back my GP had told me that I wasn’t going to stay on them forever and I would need to put something in place to replace it. Eureka! I had found it.

From the beginning, Annemaree’s feedback to me was that she had rarely if ever seen someone progress quite so fast, which we put down to me having been overwhelmingly “ready” to change things up in my life. I still agree this to be the case, but I have also learnt a few more things about myself in the recent weeks.  Whilst always encouraging and supportive of my staggering switcheroo, Annemaree also – very gently – warned that I would most likely take a couple of steps backwards.

Enter Christmas School Holidays and I was moon-walking backwards so fast you would have sworn Michael Jackson had risen from the grave.  Despite my excitement about the Christmas holiday with the children and my husband’s extended family, my mother and my brother at a beautiful seaside resort; despite enjoying the process of preparing salads and sides for Christmas Day lunch ahead of time (while My Divine Husband was out on the tiles with workmates); despite enjoying the process of selecting, lay-buying, picking up and wrapping all of the gifts we were giving to loved ones (while My Divine Husband lay on the couch watching AFL re-runs 6 months out of season)… well, despite all this, as soon as My Divine Husband finished work, the kids finished school, we packed the car and headed away and my peaceful little ritualistic routine had been smashed to smithereens. I fell apart.

I don’t mean daintily fell apart. I mean on Christmas Night I was a snot-spraying, quivering, wailing banshee woman who TOTALLY LOST IT with My Divine Husband after he put the kids to bed and DARED to say “did you forget to pack [something] for the kids?”. Up until that point – that teensy weensy tiny tip-tap of a moment, that itsy bitsy little comment – I had been putting so much pressure on myself to “stay calm” that I kind of imploded. Exploded. I think, at one point, I had him in a head-lock actually.

Put down to an obligatory Christmas melt-down, things calmed down, we talked, we moved on and eventually I let go (not just of his head….) and we enjoyed a really beautiful relaxing holiday.  When I got back I had a private session with Annemaree for an hour and a half. Still shaking and breathing shallowly I explained what happened while we were away and there was that calm, knowing smile and nod that said “hmm, I thought you would take a step backwards eventually”.  The private session was like taking a refreshing cool shower, the yoga practise was like coming home. The private session was perfect as it helped me to refine the positions I had been learning in the group classes and prepare myself for continuing to practise at home while Annemaree was away in India for five weeks.

I am not sure what, if anything, I would have done differently in the lead-up to The Christmas Night Episode. I guess I know (and boy, so does my husband) that I am not super-human, that being calm doesn’t mean you can do it all, that I am beautifully human, flawed with warts and all – but working on it. So I will continue to practise. My husband is back at work now, the kids are still on holidays and hell-bent on driving me stark-raving crackers – but I am still breathing, I am still writing, I am still studying and constantly learning.

Om & out.

AQA xxx

A Beginner’s Journal: Detachment and Learning to Let Go

When I began working with Annemaree at Cool, Calm & Collected a few weeks ago, we thought it would be great fun to use me as a guinea pig ‘Yoga Beginner’ and to regularly write about my experiences.  For this, I was the most highly qualified candidate having never pratised yoga nor tried ‘journalism’ before.  Annemaree Rowley is one brave, trusting woman.  The peculiar irony of this is that after several weeks of yoga and meditation classes, my brain seems to have become coated in Teflon. Ideas for my next article seem to slip through my brain and disappear!  Nothing takes hold.  But – ah!  Hasn’t that been the whole point?

While a Slip’n’Slide mind can be tricky when you need to quickly recall PIN numbers, important dates, (or your name!),  an upside in my Yoga experience has been to learn detachment, aka non-attachment or ‘letting go’. By this I mean letting go of and not becoming attached to my thoughts, my fears, my doubts, my emotions and my opinions. When I catch myself attaching to my thoughts, I immediately begin to feel the same old feelings of resentment, anger, disappointment, worry and anxiety. I have been reading a bit about this concept of attachment and the suffering it creates, and the best (ie, the least “oogey-boogey”) description I have come across is this:

The primary cause of suffering as human beings is grasping and clinging, which then becomes extended into greed, hatred and delusion.  In our own lives, grasping and clinging create personal suffering.  When we cling to ideas, to things, to our separateness from others, to the way things are supposed to be, we suffer.  The more we grasp the more difficulty we have.  The more we learn to let go and live with the changing things of this world as they are, the more we live in peace. Even clinging to goodness can be a problem, as Thomas Murton said:

To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything is itself to succumb to the violence of our times”.

Clinging to our body, not wanting it to age; clinging to our children, not wanting to love them and let them grow as they should but trying to make them into what we want them to be; ALL these are causes of suffering

– Jack Kornfield, “The Beginner’s Guide to Buddhism”.

Before yoga and meditation coated my brain in WD40, when I was gripped with anxiety and boxing at shadows, I was desperately grasping and clinging.  The biggest cold shower for me is this concept of clinging to “goodness”. Before the calm I was CONSTANTLY over-scheduling – myself, the kids and the entire family. Fearful – God forbid – that someone might miss out on something.  Committees, school-help, kinder duty, swimming lessons, football clinics, trips to the zoo, the park, the beach, making, baking, creating together, date-nights, friends over, birthday parties. I was overwhelmed with guilt and anxiety if I had one spare moment to sit still.

Facebook does not help. On one hand it is a great way to feel connected with friends, old and new – but it has also left me quivering with exhaustion whilst observing a plethora of “magical mum moments and major mini-me milestones”.  I have often found myself not overwhelmed with joy for the latest status update, but trapped in some vast, virtual *Mother’s Group, thinking “CRAP!   I should be at the zoo / beach / pool / museum / aquarium! I should have slept overnight at Ticketek for Hi-5 / Dora / Wiggles / Thomas / Ben 10 concert tickets!  ARGH!  I should be baking cupcakes / making crayons / finger-painting!  We should be camping / skiing / rock-climbing / doing Europe!  Let’s not even get started on the Kids Birthday Party industry, or the extremes some go to for a tooth fairy / Easter Bunny / Santa Claus visit. Pass the Xanax, the Marlboro Lights and your finest bottle of Pinot Gris – thanks.

Well, no more.  No more “should” in my vocabulary.  Through meditation and yoga I am beginning to feel more at ease with the way things are. I stand more fully and more confidently within my own skin. I am not “over-committee”ing, over-committing, over-scheduling, trying to force things to be, or having anything be any way other than what it is.

The less I try to control everything and everybody around me, the greater grip I have on life with happiness never out of reach. My family is already happier with this paring back in our lives. More than any chock-a-block schedule of non-stop forced fun and activities, the most important and responsible thing I can do for my family is to be calm.  My family will remember for many more years to come (I hope) that I was NOT a raving lunatic; that I smiled a lot; laughed easily; and was far more fun to be with than any Dora the Explorer concert.

This doesn’t mean I have checked out of the family unit altogether.  You won’t find me in front of a shrine in the corner, legs crossed, eyes closed, blissed out and absent while the kids are in front of the TV!  There is still a hectic schedule of things to do and places to be throughout the week. Detachment doesn’t mean complete avoidance of reality!  Now, with less time being eaten up with fear and worry and anxiety, I actually seem to have more hours in the day to do all of things we enjoy.  The difference is I just don’t WORRY as much anymore.

*Mother’s Group: several women hurled together with little else than a postcode and having ‘reproduced’ in common. These groups are designed to help, support and nurture new mothers through the early days of parenting. In the author’s experience, once the first six months’ fog of sleep deprivation lifts, competition creeps in, cliques and splinter groups form, judgements arise and one can be better off smiling politely and backing out of the room slowly.

AQA xxx

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).

 

A Beginner’s Journal Part 3 – Deep Relaxation & Meditation

My first meditation class was a surprisingly emotional experience.  The mechanics of the class seemed simple enough – some gentle stretching, some deep breathing and a lot of lying on my back in a darkened room.  With the dulcet tones of Annemaree guiding and lulling the class into an ever-deepening state of relaxation, I then succumbed to silence – and lots of it.  Pretty straight-forward really.

So why then, when I “came to” did I feel like someone had cut my boat adrift from the jetty?  Let go of my rope?  Why was I experiencing such an overwhelming feeling of loss and grief?  Why did I feel like a huge balloon was about to burst in my chest into the ugliest, wettest, snottiest tears ever?   Hadn’t I been feeling quite chipper on the way in?  To the naked eye, all I was doing was sitting in a dark room with my eyes closed, breathing and being silent while Annemaree spoke gentle words about letting go. There was no bolt of lightning – the earth didn’t move.

In the following days I reflected upon this a lot.

On a superficial level, I think I found the SILENCE overwhelming.  Being a mother of two small children and after years of corporate tight-roping, I have been conditioned to be on constant high-alert.  With my disaster–radar finely tuned, I am ready for anything and expecting the worst – always having to think around corners, watch my back, think for and protect everyone around me, keep doing, keep going, keep moving at all cost.

Corporate bumper stickers had been plastered all over my brain. “You Snooze You Lose!”, “First is Always Best!”  “It’s The Quick and the Dead!”  But there in the darkness, in the silence – it was just me.  “Nothing to worry about, nothing to do, nothing to think about, just…be.”  For an hour and a half.   One quiet hour and a half to offload 15 years of baggage.  That’s enough to make anybody weep.

On a slightly deeper level,  just BE?  Just ME?  What the hell did that mean?  That used to be easy – it was written right underneath my name on my business card, next to the company logo. That’s who I was. Leaving work to stay at home to raise the children left me struggling with my identity, but under my imaginary business cards I’m sure it says “Devoted Wife & Mother”.  (The one I would show people anyway).

Up to this point I am the result of all of the labels and bumper stickers I have stuck on myself or had stuck on me by well-meaning others.  Good Girl, Good Student, Good Daughter.  I did what I was told to do (okay, not ALL the time).  I followed a career path I was told I should – following my head and not my heart.  I did all the “right” things.  I met and married My Beautiful Husband, we bought a house in a nice suburb, we renovated and we reproduced – twice!  Until one day, I found myself in my early thirties on the corporate “Out Tray”, on anti-depressants, squashing ugly feelings and emotions with wine each night and having a major “Talking Heads” moment – well, how did I GET here?

Common sense or that nagging voice in my head kept yelling “But look at everything you’ve got! What have you got to be miserable about? Just SNAP OUT OF IT!”  And so, embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone other than my divine GP about it, I took the battle inside.

So there I lay, in a dark room, in stillness and in silence – letting all of this go. In the darkness and the stillness it felt like laying a loved one to rest. This was who I WAS. Letting go of that to which I had held on to so tightly, for so long, was like waking in fright from one of those falling dreams. Without all that – who or what the hell am I?

The next morning, in the daylight, it felt different.  I enjoyed one off the deepest sleeps I had had in a long time and woke not feeling loss, but lighter. Rather than feeling like someone had cut me adrift, it felt like someone had kindly pulled up my anchor.

The changes I’ve noticed so far have been small but significant. I didn’t realize how ANGRY I was all the time. Now, as I move from room to room each day making beds and picking up yesterday’s discarded underpants I’m not conducting an internal, raging monologue. I’m not keeping a mental tally of “everything I do which goes unnoticed and unappreciated”, ready to unleash it on My Beautiful Husband if he dares to question me on, well, ANYTHING.

Now, I can find a small smile on my lips, rather than a clenched jaw. I can slide from one task to the next calmly and methodically and there is less mental chatter. Maybe some of those monkeys in my mind have packed up their bananas and nicked off. I can find small joy in the mundane and I am truly grateful for my husband, my children, my home and my life. Yes, A life which now feels a little bit larger, slightly less claustrophobic and ripening with possibility.

I wake each day quite happy.  Calm.  Looking forward to what it may hold. I can answer the phone rather than letting it go to voicemail to be dealt with later. My skin seems clearer. My lower back pain has gone. I can focus on one thing at a time and I’m not white-knuckling it through the day to 5pm when I can claw open a bottle of wine. We also have nightly visits from rats while we’re sleeping but I put that down to wet weather and cookie crumbs, not some mystical “Pied Piper” vibration I am emitting to all creatures great and small as a result of meditation.

What I had thought was going to be a process – through yoga and meditation – of losing weight and learning to put my leg behind my head is actually, for me anyway, an exercise in letting go. I certainly feel lighter – but the bathroom scales don’t show it (I don’t feel the need to even get on them anymore) and I am definitely more “flexible” – but I can’t get my leg behind my head.  In my last Cool, Calm & Collected class, Annemaree informed us that there are thousands and thousands of  yoga postures.  This is a challenge in itself for someone who is used to putting her head down and bum up (I think this is called Downward Dog in yoga) for a few weeks of intense study and getting an A+.  There is no end – this is life.

I have an idea for some new bumper stickers too: “Meditate Don’t Medicate!” and “Yoga! Embrace The Underpants”.

AQA xxx

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).

A Beginner’s Yoga Journal Part 2 – My first yoga class

I attended my first Hatha Yoga class last Sunday.

I had to shove all of my body, skill and fashion-based fears aside and come to terms with the fact that I am not Gwyneth Paltrow. You know…doe-eyed; rake thin; ultra-cool; effortlessly chic; clad head-to-toe in ‘Stella McCartney for Adidas’ gear; with matching yoga mat, tucked under my toothpick arm – hanging out of my ‘It Yoga Bag of the moment’…

I left the kids with Grandma to enjoy their own bliss – junk food and anarchy – and headed into the unknown.

I took the “loose, comfortable clothing” instruction literally. (Who are they kidding? I’m a mother of two young boys – that’s my entire wardrobe). I was relieved to see that everyone else in the class were literal too. No pretense, not a designer label in sight. Not one BYO yoga mat either. It was a wildly different experience from arriving at a gym class where there must be a sign on the door saying “Do Not Smile or Make Eye Contact with Other Class Members, You Don’t Know Where They’ve Been”; everyone was casual, relaxed and friendly.

The experience level of the class ranged from complete novice (Yours Truly among them) to very bendy 10- year veterans. That Lifer Yogi set – teacher Annemaree included – exude such grace and elegance. Like a small posse of blissed-out ballerinas; so serene, their eyes so clear with eyeballs so white! They were incandescent. If you squinted you could read by them in a dark room; stick them in a corner and enjoy a romantic dinner. I DEFINITELY want some of that!

During the entire class, Annemaree gently urged and subtly reminded us to move gracefully throughout and between the poses and stances. Easy for her to say! If there is such a thing as a “Gracefulness Spectrum”, Annemaree and the Light-Bulb Bunch swim in the “Gene Kelly / Fred Astaire” end whilst I, and a smattering of others, flail about in the “Edna Everage / Basil Fawlty” beginner’s pool.

Having a complete blank on my ‘left from my right’; falling over occasionally; bumping into the odd classmate; and wondering why the whole class was looking at me quizzically during a stretching exercise, I bless Annemaree for not singling me out. I eventually got it after her repeating “to the class” – in gentle crescendo – “Left leg over right and look left…And look left…And look left. And LOOK LEFT!”

The lack of pretense within the class and encouragement from Annemaree gave us all the good grace and humour to giggle and get on with it. The stuff-ups made the class all the more enjoyable – contrasting wildly with my previous experience “Grape-vining” right while everyone else went left. Step Classes? Don’t even go there.

Through the week leading up to my class I was moved by a blog article from zenhabits.com on “The 7 Steps to an Effortless Life”. Amongst the others, two steps stayed with me –  to “Do Less” and to “Have Less”. They became like a mantra each time I found myself slipping into the mental twilight zone of Mother/ Wife- guilt, about not doing enough, or being enough,or doing it right or not doing it like everyone else seems to do it. To close the class we did a deep, blissful relaxation-exercise and one phrase Annemaree murmured within it struck a chord; “Let go of the actions and behaviours which no longer serve you”.

As a recovering “highly intelligent, over-achieving, perfectionist, control-freak”, I immediately thought she was referring to my love affair with wine, drunken faux pas, and penchant for a cigarette or eight. But as the words sit with me now, I think it’s deeper than that. I think, for me anyway, it’s about letting go of that comfortable but harmful thought pattern of not doing enough, or being enough, or doing it right, or not doing it like everyone else does it. Basically, I need to shut the hell up. I AM enough.

I came home from that first class feeling lighter and brighter. However… before you think I’ve swallowed The Little Book of Calm (just like Manny did in an early episode of Black Books) and had some sort of divine transformation – I came home and had a glass of wine and a fag like they do in the movies after great sex. What can I say? I’m still a work in progress. I’m no longer seeking perfection, just inner peace and mental quiet. I will be going back for my next slice of ‘Incandescence Pie’.

P.S.  Check out www.coolcalmandcollected.com.au and meet Annemaree.  You may not be aware that this is her blog and she has been trusting enough to throw me the keys every fortnight to share my journal with you.

(Contributing writer, student and ‘eternal work in progress’ – Anita Quigley Atherton).